(Artwork care of Karen Ramsay (www.karenramsay.com), profile photo care of brianlackeyphotography.com)

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Recording review - ÄÄNIPÄÄ, Through a Pre-Memory (2013)

Dramatic textures mired in experimental murk

Can you get too much of a bad thing? A bass beat rumble and detuned guitar strums set the foreboding mood at the very start of Through a Pre-Memory. Joined by an artificial snare and strangely reverberating voices, the ironically named “Muse” is like a gateway into schizophrenic darkness. The dissonant chord progression climbs a couple of steps in an irregular repetition, but, like Sisyphus, always slips back to its starting point. Within the first two minutes, the bleak, defeatist feeling is almost overwhelming and it’s daunting to realize that the track still has another 19 minutes to run. The sonic palette extends to include additional ghostly intrusions: short, insectile squiggles of electronic static like a bad patch cable and jarring echoes of noise that might have their roots in an abused guitar. At 5:22, Alan Dubin from the doom metal band, Khanate, makes his first appearance. Hosting us on our haunted house tour, he roughly shouts a few lines from the writings of Russian poet Anna Akhmatova. The experimental experience transitions into a new ethereal realm, dominated by squeals, squonks and otherworldly echoes. Eventually, at 12:23, Dubin returns to assault us with a rawly screamed accusation that begins, “When/ At night/ I wait for her.” His feral ranting is matched by a metal guitar grind. At this point, it’s so disturbing that it’s easy to look back fondly on the welcoming embrace of the song’s beginning.

Of course, ÄÄNIPÄÄ is not interested in creating pretty music; they’re more engaged in capturing dramatic moments. The two members each have their own experimental approaches that find complementary expression in this duo. Mika Vainio, of Pan Sonic, has long crafted industrial-flavored electronic soundscapes, calculated to evoke tension and doubt. Guitarist Stephen O’Malley leverages both his doom-metal aesthetic and the heavy droning darkness of his band, Sunn O))), to find textures that evoke a hypnotic nihilism. The two artists connected when their bands collaborated on a 2009 cover of Suicide’s “Che”. On this project, they grant themselves full freedom to explore the shadows together.

The remaining three long-playing tracks on Through a Pre-Memory provide their own sojourns through soul-crushing, twilight realms. None of this is cheery, but “Toward All Thresholds” finds the most peace. It slowly thaws to reveal a strange, ambient locale, surrounded by the low buzz of unseen creatures. As night falls, swirls and swoops of sound briefly drift close then dart away. This disorienting sonic sculpture gradually collects details and transitions from a natural space to a grander view of alien artifacts. Vainio’s bass-heavy techno throb underlies this section like a mechanical heartbeat while O’Malley’s guitar accents the piece’s throaty hum with splashes of awe-struck fear. The machine-like drone grows until all is paralyzed. A sharp cut-off and we pass through the doorway, spending the final two minutes in a barren zone, having lost all sense of direction.

It’s very evocative music. This kind of murky catharsis has its satisfying moments, but ÄÄNIPÄÄ pushes so deeply into obscure spaces that the pieces start to drag and lose power. Dubin’s harsh vocals on both “Muse” and the last track, “Watch Over Stillness / Matters Principle”, do contribute to the fearful atmosphere, but ultimately become more of an annoyance. Like most experimental forays, it’s all a matter of taste, but Through a Pre-Memory was too bitter-metallic for me.

(This review first appeared on Spectrum Culture)

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